American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis
Summer 2017

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Roger Jennings delivered an address to Volos, Greece in February 2017 honoring his grandfather, Asa K. Jennings, who is the subject of One Man Changed Greece and Turkey Forever which appeared in this journal in 2010.

For Volos
by Roger Jennings

Thank you President Moulas , members of the City Council, and Mayor for inviting me on behalf of the City of Volos to honor my Grandfather Asa K. Jennings for his service to the people of Greece. This is a very important occasion for the people of Greece. I am honored that the Bishop, his Eminence Mr. Ignatios is with us today. Thank you, your Eminence. I also appreciate that members of the refugee organizations are here today, and thank you Father Meletios for your help.

As I talk about the tragic events of 1922 and 1923, you will learn there was a very special Captain in the Greek Navy who made the rescue possible. If Captain Ioannis Theofanides had not arrived in Mitylene exactly when he did, and been willing to help, hundreds of thousands of Greeks would have died. I regret that the family of Captain Ioannis Theofanides could not be with us today. We remember them today.

You and I belong to the same family. I am part of your family, and you are part of mine. We all belong to the human family.

That is what Asa K. Jennings believed, and that is why he loved both Greeks and Turks. What is Love? Christianity teaches us that love is giving of oneself without expecting anything in return. If you expect something in return, that is a commercial transaction.

So Asa was non-partisan. That was a key to his success in saving 300,000 Greeks, 25,000 Armenians and 25, 000 Jews in the first 11 days. His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch, said Asa was responsible for saving 1,250,000 lives in nearly a year. All the people Asa went to for help wanted something for themselves. The only exception was the man who is the great Greek hero, Captain Ioannis Theofanides. I will talk more about him later.

Most Greeks are partisans. When talking about Turks, they get emotional. The Turks did all these terrible things. Everything was their fault. That was not Asa's approach. He went to General Mustafa Kemal, later known as Ataturk, on September 20, 1922, to get permission to remove the Greeks and others from Smyrna. If Asa K. Jennings had been a partisan offending Mustafa Kemal, such as by saying, Turks are raping and killing Greek women, looting and beating innocent people, which they were, Asa would have never received cooperation. Asa taught us how we as Christians should conduct ourselves. Do you remember, "turn the other cheek?" Matthew 5:39

Asa took a constructive approach. Mustafa Kemal had a big problem, and Asa had a solution for him.

Who was this Asa Jennings?  He was an American, a Methodist minister, working for the YMCA. He also was a hunchback whose spine had collapsed 13 cm leaving him 157 cm tall and suffering from the effects of Potts Disease, a form of tuberculosis. He only had 45% breathing capacity and his heart, lungs and organs were pushed to one side by his collapsed spine. His spine was supported by a strap wrapped tightly around his body each day. He contracted this disease in 1905. 27 doctors told my Grandmother that Asa would die within weeks, and there was no hope he could survive. My Grandmother cried, and opened the Bible, she said, at random to John 11:4. If you are a person of faith, this was not random, but rather the Providence of God. John 11:4 says "This sickness is not to end in death, but is for the honor of God, that through it the Son of God may be honored." Eureka!

The next day my Grandmother went to the hospital and first gave my Grandfather the good news of John 11:4. He had great faith in God. Then she gave him the bad news of the doctors. He was not concerned at the prediction of the doctors. His response in 1905 was, "I cannot die, for I have a great mission to accomplish." We now know that was saving the Greeks in 1922 and 1923.

It was very hot in Smyrna. My Grandfather and family arrived in Smyrna on August 16. On August 20 the Greek Army was defeated, and the humanitarian crisis started. My Grandfather organized the American Relief Committee. The members were all Americans from local businesses and schools, plus the YMCA and YWCA. George Horton was the U.S. Consul General and highest ranking U.S. diplomat. He attended the meetings and was asked repeatedly to go to the Turks on behalf of the Greeks. The wife of George Horton was a Greek. George loved Greece, but he would not go to the Turks. He would only say, "bring it up at the next meeting." That is not what Americans do. He was a coward, and I am embarrassed by George Horton. He left Smyrna at the time of the fire on September 13, but left his staff in Smyrna at risk of death to deal with the problems of Smyrna.

All the Americans, British, and French left Smyrna on September 13, except the members of the American Relief Committee. My Grandmother left with her 3 children ages 15, 13 and 8. Once they reached Piraeus and the family had booked passage to Geneva, my Father, age 15, returned to Smyrna to help his weak Father, Asa K. Jennings.

The American Relief Committee gathered flour and was feeding up to 350,000 people a day. The Marsellou family, a Greek family, gave their house on the Quai to Asa, and he thrust over 500 women and girls in the house so they would not be raped or killed. Then he got other houses. A maternity ward was set up. 2000 orphans were on the street in front of the houses guarded by sailors from the U.S. Navy.

There was insufficient food and water for more than 350,000 people trapped between the sea and city that had been burned to the ground. Dead people were everywhere. There was no sanitation. The stench was horrific. Disease could break out at any time and spread very quickly. People could not stay in this environment. The nationalist government of Turkey announced that within days everyone in Smyrna would be marched into the interior of Turkey, and everyone knew that meant death.

Others on the Committee had been responsible to get ships, but had been unsuccessful. My Grandfather later wrote that he was overcome on September 20, his birthday, by an uncontrollable compassion to get ships. Only ships could save these people. Providence!

Mustafa Kemal really did not want the deaths of all these people on his hands. He could not let these people stay in the City. Kemal had what appeared to be an unsolvable problem. Asa was known to all for his fearlessness in the wild and violent City. Asa went to the headquarters of Mustafa Kemal and asked for a meeting. The General was interested to meet this fearless little man, and listened.

Asa asked to remove the Greeks and others from Turkey. Mustafa Kemal agreed, but the Turks had no ships. Mustafa Kemal laid down conditions:

No Greek flags could be displayed, because that would create violence among the Turks.

No man 18-45 could leave Turkey. He did not want them returning as another invading Greek Army.  That was a very unfortunate condition, because most of the men were never seen again.

Ships could not tie up at the Quai, because he wanted to control emigration to make sure the men 18-45 did not leave. That condition was later relaxed at the urging of the U.S. Navy by loading ships from the RR pier that was guarded by Turkish soldiers.

Asa was given 7 days to remove all the refugees from Smyrna. That is an amazing challenge, but it also was amazing that Mustafa Kemal even gave Jennings the chance.

Asa left the meeting with General Kemal and drove to the port. He requested a boat with coxswain from the U.S. Navy to take him to the French ship, the Pierre Loti. The French Captain did not want to get involved. He would rather let the Greeks, who were pleading to be saved, die. How many times in your life have you or your friends said they did not want to get involved? The Captain sailed off with available space on the decks of his ship. The next time someone asks you for help, think twice before you say no.

Asa ordered the coxswain to take him to a ship further out in the harbor, the Italian ship Constantinople. The Captain said he could take 2000 people, but he wanted baksheesh. When a man is drowning, you do not ask for money to throw the man a life preserver? The British citizens who crossed the English Channel in their own private boats to save British soldiers at Dunkirk did not demand payment from the soldiers. My Grandfather raised the bribe price, and 2000 people were loaded on the ship. Then the Captain wanted more money. My Grandfather said "how can you ask for more money? The price has been decided." "Well, the Greeks at Mitylene might not let these people land, and I might have to take them a greater distance. I need more money." So my Grandfather said he would go on the trip, Providence, and it would be his responsibility to get the people off the ship. There was, in fact, no problem with the authorities in Mitylene.

StampsHowever, in Mitylene my Grandfather saw many of the 35,000 Greek soldiers who had left Turkey, and there were empty ships at anchor. The 2000 people were crying for those ships to save their families and friends still in Smyrna. You can read in Waking the Lion the details of how my Grandfather got control of 50 Greek ships, and see some of the original documents that I brought here to Volos. In short, the Army was under the control of Greek General Frangos who refused to let the empty ships be used to save Greeks. My Grandfather then saw a battleship enter the harbor. The Captain was Ioannis Theofanides. Providence. Captain Theofanides and the General did not like each other, and the Captain was very willing to help my Grandfather save Greeks from being killed.

My Grandfather wrote a series of radio messages to the Greek Government which the Captain translated into Greek. The messages were then put into code and sent by radio. Ultimately, my Grandfather had to blackmail the Greek Government, with the approval of the Captain, to get the 50 ships that saved the Greek people. The Greek Government was afraid the Turks would capture the ships and invade the Greek islands. The U.S. Navy promised to protect the Greek ships. My Grandfather was relying on the promise of General M. Kemal.

Once the ships were ordered to follow my Grandfather's orders, the ship captains had excuses why they could not make the trip. They were afraid to go into a Turkish port. Captain Theofanides called all the ship captains to a meeting on board his ship, the battleship Kilkis, and told the merchant captains that any ship not ready to sail by midnight would have its captain court martialed. The captain would be shot on the fantail of the Kilkis. Suddenly all the ships were able to sail. After his patriotic service to his country, Captain I. Theofanides was kicked out of the Greek Navy.

Captain Ioannis Theofanides was responsible for saving many hundreds of thousands of Greek lives. Prime Minister Venizelos got Greece into the war with the Turks that cost so many Greeks, and unborn generations of Greeks, Turks and Armenians, their lives. Greece has honored Venizelos who cost so many people their lives by naming the Athens airport after him. I recommend that Greeks get a petition together to change the name of the Athens airport to instead honor the man who saved so many Greeks. Who among you will have the heart of a lion to start a petition to change the name of the airport to the Captain Ioannis Theofanides Airport?

My Grandfather replaced the Greek flag with the American flag on his ships, and sailed on the first ship, the Ismini, to enter the Smyrna harbor protected by the U.S. Navy. 26 ships followed him. When the refugees on the quai in Smyrna saw the ships coming into the harbor, there was a great jubilation among the refugees. Other ships arrived later from Piraeus and other locations.

The Turks had allowed only 7 days, and the rescue was not completed after 7 days. However, the operation was going well, and the Turks allowed the rescue to continue for the 11 days required to remove all the refugees. In the middle of all this, there was a coup of the Greek Government. The power hungry politicians and army could not delay their ego trip at this critical moment of the Greek people. They dishonored the Greek people.

My Grandfather then directed now 50 ships to all ports of Turkey with the approval of General M. Kemal. In 10 months 1,250,000 people were removed to safety.

There is much more to the story, and you can read that in Waking the Lion. Prepare yourself. You will not like what you read, but it is the truth. The Greeks did terrible things to the Turks, and the Turks did terrible things to the Greeks. Both were guilty. Now, as Christians, our obligation is to forgive. Remember what Jesus Christ said at his crucifixion, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." Luke 23:34 Greeks must forgive the Turks. We cannot live fighting old wars, but rather must live for a peaceful and prosperous future.

This story is about human character. People were thinking of only themselves, like those Roman soldiers dividing up the garments of Jesus Christ. The exceptions were General M. Kemal who was serving the interests of the Turkish people, my Grandfather who was serving humanity, and the great Greek hero, Captain Ioannis Theofanides, whose moral compass always pointed true to save his fellow countrymen.

Today, Greeks need to be saved again. This time, from the Great Economic Depression.

It is time for us to pray for Greece, but before I ask his Eminence to lead us in a prayer for Greece, I want to say thank you, again, President Moulas, members of the City Council and Mayor for inviting me today. Your Eminence.bluestar

Note: The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has commissioned Israeli stamps to honor Asa K. Jennings.


Author Roger Jennings grew up in a family immersed in Middle Eastern affairs. He started accompanying his Father to Europe, Greece, Turkey and other countries in the 1950s. He had the opportunity to meet the people of these countries to understand their histories and cultures. His Grandmother, widow of Asa K. Jennings, gave Roger Asa K.'s archives. One Turkish author Rifat Bali who went through these records and reported in his book The Saga of a Friendship Asa Kent Jennings and The American Friends of Turkey that he made 2500 photocopies. Roger wrote Waking the Lion which is sold by Amazon from these records and other family knowledge to tell the true story of what happened in Smyrna in 1922.

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